Today, I’m featuring a guest post by Melbourne-based author AJ Collins, whose first book, a crossover YA/adult novel, Oleanders Are Poisonous, has just been released. A recipient of first prize and several commendations for the Monash WordFest awards, AJ has been published in various short story anthologies and magazines, and was awarded a place at […]
A special offer for A Perfect Stone on Kindle, only for a short time and only on Amazon. To take advantage of this massive discount on price, grab it now on Amazon
What’s it about?
Living alone, eighty-year-old Jim Philips potters in his garden feeding his magpies. He doesn’t think much of his nosy neighbours and dislikes telemarketers intensely. All he wants to do is live in peace.
Cleaning out a box belonging to his late wife, he finds something which triggers the memories of a childhood he’s hidden, not just from his overprotective middle-aged daughter, Helen, but from himself. When Jim has a stroke, Helen is shocked to find out her father is not who she thinks he is.
Jim’s suppressed memories surface in the most unimaginable way when he finally confronts what happened when, as a ten-year-old, he was forced at gunpoint to leave his family and trek barefoot through the mountains to escape the Greek Civil War in 1948.
What are readers saying?
FIVE STARS FOR A PERFECT STONE
“This is a fictional story but based on actual events, and the author wastes not a word in evoking sympathy for those most vulnerable members of society, without ever becoming maudlin.” Helen Hollick (Discovering Diamonds – shortlisted for book of the month July 19)
‘It is a story of loss and survival interspersed with the history of a war I knew little about. Highly recommended.’ Elise
“A Perfect Stone” is a vivid and engaging novel that brims with believable characters and a great deal of observational wisdom.” Clare
‘It brought me to tears in more than one passage,” Stephanie
“The story of young children – their exhaustion, hunger and ultimate survival is riveting. It makes me think differently about my neighbours – eastern European, Asian – of where they’ve come from and what they may have endured to get here.
I loved the writing and the fastidious research and simply couldn’t put it down.” Meredith
“I was thoroughly immersed and couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended.” Eugene
“A fictional story drawn from real experiences, Dimitri/Jim become stand ins for all children throughout history forced from their homes in time of war and destined never to be reunited with their birth families.” Chris
Military Wives, inspired by true events was directed by Peter Cattaneo, famed for the film, The Full Monty.
Two women, Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Lisa (Sharon Horgan) are from very different backgrounds with very different views. Kate has lived the life of a military wife for years, is conservative and toes the military line. Lisa on the other hand is relaxed, drinks and likes to have fun with the other wives. With the promotion of her husband, Lisa is forced to undertake a leadership role with Kate, to come up with ideas to occupy everyone while their partners go to Afghanistan for six months. The two disagree about everything and when they start a choir with a group of women with varying singing ability, things get very interesting with very funny results.
But it’s not all humour. The anxiety of worrying about their husbands and partners and wondering who will come back, is well done. It is a well-trodden formula and fairly predictable but what seemed different to me was how deeply moving it was.
What might be commonly known in Britain but little known elsewhere is that there was an initial Military Wives Choir who gained fame in 2011 with a hit song which inspired 75 other military wives’ choirs around the world.
The music is wonderful and while it’s not likely to win any Oscars, it’s a feel-good film. Oh, and a word of warning for some of you … perhaps pack the tissues.
Out in Australia on wide release mid March 2020.
Most of us have or have had an Oxford English Dictionary. The Professor and the Madman relays the fascinating story about how the Oxford Dictionary came to be compiled during the mid-nineteenth century.
Professor James Murray, (played by Mel Gibson) is tasked with the enormous job to edit the floundering English dictionary begun by Oxford University’s Fredrick Furnivall (played by Steve Coogan). Murray is given seven years and seeks help from the public across the Commonwealth by placing notes inside books requesting help with words and their origins.
William Minor, (played by Sean Penn) an ex-soldier having been a surgeon in the American Civil War is in a psychiatrist hospital in England. He’s there because he killed a man who he believed was someone haunting him from his days in the war. He receives a book and rises to the task to provide help to Murray by providing over 10,000 entries.
Because Minor helped save a guard’s life, he is allowed privileges one of which is bringing his books into the Institution. His brilliant mind is astonishing even to Murray who fights hard to get Minor’s work acknowledged against vast opposition by the University. Minor tries to make amends with the murdered man’s wife who is left with six children and a relationship of forgiveness evolves.
Based on fact it is an incredible story of two brilliant minds coming together to accomplish a monumental task in a short amount of time. In further research I found the dictionary actually took seventy years to compile. Astonishing.
Mel Gibson bought the rights to the book, The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester in 1998 and the film was caught up in legal battles over creative differences.
The way mental health was dealt with in the 1800’s was hair raising and was covered very well in the film. Sean Penn was amazing as the anguished and haunted Minor.
The only difficulty I had was in the Scottish accents by Gibson, which was incredibly authentic but so much so that it was hard to understand some of the dialogue. Likewise, I found the same for Penn. This could well have been the quality of the sound in the movie theatre I visited rather than the quality of the sound of the film. Nevertheless, it wasn’t bad enough that I didn’t know what was going on.
It’s a very enjoyable movie and I learnt a lot. For all of you word lovers, check it out and for everyone see it anyway. It opens Feb 20 in Australia.
Writers know what I mean. Writing is hard! It’s about finding the story and getting it down in a coherent way. It’s about editing, rewriting, deleting, and thinking and mulling and… I could go on. Wait! I already have.
But it’s also about finding the sweet spot of the story, the joy of a beautiful sentence, of falling in love with the characters, nurturing and cajoling them along and the sadness of leaving them when it comes to the end. It’s all consuming, night and day in your head until it’s time to let it go. Out into the world for others to see, to judge, to like or not.
I’ve been writing my next book for the last eighteen months, pushing it along slowly and methodically at times, researching and looking for the story. The draft is done and there are two stories not one. Parts of it have been rewritten at least three times so far.
Rewriting is not new to me. My first novel was rewritten at least twenty times, my second perhaps ten or more times. I enjoy the editing and rewriting process as I mould the book from rough diamond to something polished and a joy to read (I hope).
Someone said to me yesterday. “Surely it’s easier by now.” I raised my eyebrows. It’s not easier. Should it be? For me it’s not. And neither will the next one and the next one after that. There’s no easy shortcut. It doesn’t get done by any other way than sitting/standing in front of a keyboard or notebook or Dictaphone and just writing.
Writing is just plain, hard work!
I’ve read thirty-four books this year, many of which I’ve loved. Is it because I’ve been selective? Or is it just that there are so many fantastic books around? Perhaps I’ll never know.
But what I do know is that I’ve decided on my most favourite and claim it as my Book of the Year for 2019. Before I reveal the title, I’ll run through what I actually read. Have you read any of the same.
- The Clockmakers Daughter by Kate Morton (Aus)
- The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein (Aus)
- Bridge of Clay by Marcus Zusak (Aus) *****
- The Stars in the Night by Clare Rhoden (Aus) *****
- Orhphan Train by Cristina Baker-Kline
- Beartown by Frederick Backman
- The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
- The Corset by Laura Purcell
- Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales (Aus)
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (Aus)
- The Hollow Bones by Leah Kaminksy (Aus)
- The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan
- The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper (Aus)
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens *****
- Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
- The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan *****
- Islands by Peggy Frew (Aus) *****
- Troll Hunting by Ginger Gorman (Aus) *****
- Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia by Anita Heiss (Aus)
- The Power by Naomi Alderman
- Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver *****
- Washington Black by Esi Edugyan *****
- Academic Curveball by James J Cudney
- The Erratics by Vicki Leveau-Harvie (Aus) *****
- Reunion by Andrea Goldsmith (Aus)
- The Fragments by Toni Jordan (Aus) *****
- Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar (Aus) *****
- Stone Girl by Eleni Hale (Aus) *****
- Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins-Reid *****
- The Spy and the Traitor by Ben McIntyre *****
- The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth (Aus)
- Normal People by Sally Rooney
- The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
More than half were by Australians which is natural given that I live and write in Australia and there is a strong writing community. I notice that most of the books were written by women and that wasn’t meant to be intentional but it just so happens that there’s an amazing number of great women writers. I rated fourteen books with five stars which is why it’s so hard to narrow down my book of the year.
However, the book which stays with me the most was : Bridge of Clay by Marcus Zusak. It had every element just right, great writing, humour, tragedy, sorrow and drama. Check out my review https://sckarakaltsas.com/2019/02/15/book-review-bridge-of-clay-by-markus-zusak/
Happy New Year everyone.
I’m branching out of my comfort zone of books to talk about other things. I go along to quite a few plays held in Melbourne subscribing to seven or so plays a year with the Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC). I’ve seen some fantastic productions, none more so than the current play, Black is the New White.
While it is a long play, at two hours and thirty minutes, (including a twenty-minute intermission) and I hear the collective groan, it’s one of the most face-paced, hilarious, and subversive two hours that you’re ever likely to encounter for quite some time.
So what’s it about?
Charlotte Gibson, a successful lawyer has fallen in love with Francis Smith, an unemployed but highly talented experimental composer. They attend her affluent parents’ holiday house for Christmas extending an invitation to Francis’ parents. Charlotte’s father Ray, an ex-politician has grand plans for Charlotte as the next female Indigenous Waleed Aly on prime time television. But Ray doesn’t know that his daughter has other ideas for her life including marriage to Francis who happens to be the son of Ray’s political nemesis, Dennison Smith. The skeletons come flying out of the closet thick and fast.
What follows is a tussle between the families which provides the perfect backdrop for a brilliantly funny play. The play has been described as a cross between Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Meet the Fockers. But it’s so much more than that. It’s insight with satire at its best.
Lui drills down on being indigenous and white particularly in middle-class Australia. The issues are even broader than race and are no less blunt and direct turning a mirror on all of us in an utterly explicit way. Indeed it’s a play of the current day adding to the conversation of racism, equality, feminism, generation gaps and class and privilege. There’s no pussyfooting around the blunt, confronting and the thought-provoking messages poking fun yet involving us all.
Starring, Miranda Tapsell as Charlotte and Tony Briggs as Ray, the acting by all the players was brilliant; slapstick and nudity included. The set is wonderful and the dialogue tight. It’s refreshing to see a play like this.
If you’re in Melbourne or coming to visit, get along to this one for a very enjoyable evening. It runs until 9 November 2019.